1 Nov 2018

Albatross Task Force leader wins major award with seabird-saving invention

We interview the leader of the Albatross Task Force in Argentina, Leandro Tamini, who has won the Marsh Award for Marine Conservation Leadership, which recognises people or organisations having a profound impact on marine conservation.

All photos © Albatross Task Force
All photos © Albatross Task Force
By Shannon Anstee

1. How did you become interested in conservation?

Twenty years ago when I was doing fieldwork for my master thesis I would routinely go out on small fishing boats. On these boats I noticed that they weren’t just catching the fish they wanted, they were also catching a large number of other species as bycatch which they then had to discard. That’s when I first thought about working to make fishing more sustainable, and indirectly with that, in conservation. When I started working, what interested me, and what keeps interesting me, was always how to make commercial fishing as eco-friendly as possible, so that it has minimal impact on marine ecosystems.

2. In 2008 you began working with the Albatross Task Force trying to reduce bycatch. One of the ways you did this was by inventing a device called the Tamini Tabla, which stabilizes bird-scaring lines in the wind. How did you come up with that idea?

One of my goals when I began working with the Albatross Task Force was to increase the usage of bird-scaring lines. This method [which involves using colorful streamers to ward birds away from trawl cables or longline hooks] is one of the simplest and most economical ways to reduce the instances of birds crashing into trawling cables. However, these lines can become tangled in the trawl cables, wearing them out and causing problems for fishing crews.

The "Tamini Tabla" keeps bird scaring-lines in place, which ward birds away from fishing nets and hooks

The solution was to design something that would weigh the bird-scaring lines down, to maintain the tension and keep the lines separated from the trawl cables. After pondering on the question for a while, and discarding a few ideas that wouldn’t work for technical reasons, I thought that we should try doing something like a miniature surfboard, with a keel at about 45 degrees to make sure the board stayed even. With the help of some crew I was able to put together a prototype from materials found on board the vessel. We tested it, and incredibly, it worked great! The lines were more taut and went out at about a 20 degree angle away from the vessel.

3. What’s the most difficult part of inventing something?

Thomas Edison once said genius was one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. I think it’s the same for inventing. You can have a spark that generates a great idea but then there’s the process to get to the final product which includes an infinite amount of testing materials, changes, adaptations, and all this back and forth.


4. How did it feel to get the Marsh Award?

It’s always nice to receive recognition for your work. For me though, the Marsh Prize isn’t just about the prestige, but about the fact that in my category, so many conservationists whose work I admire have won it before. That really makes me proud.

5. What is it like to work with the fishing industry?

From small fisheries to the largest companies, everyone has the same objective: to make a living selling what they get from the sea. Regardless of their opinion of the sea and its wildlife, all of them are investing in lines, nets or vessels for a livelihood whose success is in no way assured. In order to guarantee they can meet their daily needs and those of their family, they are all striving to recoup this investment.

It’s important to consider this when we are working with the industry. Our strategy to address any harmful actions that result from this is different depending on the sector. With captains and fishing officials, we visit them on their own boats, and suggest adaptations to make sure each mitigation measure is optimized for their particular vessel. With entrepreneurs, we try to educate them about the environmental certifications available and what the advantages of these certifications are. No matter what though, we always try to make sure we are maintaining active communication with every participant, including the fishing industry and environmental authorities. This open communication guarantees that we have the most participation possible.

Leo was nominated for the Marsh Award by the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP), which funded Leo and his team with two grants in 2003 and 2007. Partly thanks to the CLP awards, Leo initiated the first on-board observers programme in Argentina that recorded interactions between seabirds and fisheries and established an extensive citizen science network in Argentina called ECOFAM. The Conservation Leadership Programme is a partnership of BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

BirdLife International is a conservation organization working to protect birds and habitats around the world. If you would like to support our work, why not make a donation today?